The Return of Zarathustra, Part I
Zarathustra was the first archeofuturist. Ahura Mazda is the prototype of Prometheus, and an Iranian visionary is the true father of what you are used to calling your “Faustian civilization.”
Before the Arab Muslim conquest of Iran in the 7th century AD, Zoroastrianism was the dominant world religion of Earth. The Middle Persian text Zande Bahman Yasht claims that the followers of Zarathustra will be dealt a devastating defeat and will dwindle over the course of history to the point that theirs will almost vanish as the smallest faith in the world. Despite the late Shah’s best efforts to effect an archeo-futuristic renaissance of Persian culture, when he was overthrown by Islamists in 1979, no more than 300,000 Zoroastrians remained worldwide – with most of them concentrated in the exile community of “Parsis” or Persians in Bombay.
Today, after a generation of life under an Islamic theocracy more orthodox than anything Iran has suffered since the Arab Conquest, and with 70% of its population under the age of 30, the spirit of Zarathustra is returning with a vengeance. Conversion out of Islam is officially punishable by death. For this and other obvious reasons objective polls are impossible to conduct, but judging from a variety of fairly clear sociological markers – like how many young men and women wear Faravahar pendants, or how common the discourse of “Aryan” identity has become – something like one-fifth of Iran’s population has left Islam and now identifies with the Pre-Islamic Persian ethos. Combine this with the fact that the Kurds, historically the most significant Iranians besides the Persians, are also returning to some form of the religion of Zarathustra (including forms in which Mithra plays a prominent part). In that region of Iran Shahr commonly known as Kurdistan (and extending across three present-day nations states besides Iran proper), Neo-Zoroastrianism has become the most virulent reaction against the rise of the Islamic State – with its genocide of the Yazidi Mithraists and its destruction of Pre-Islamic Iranian archeological sites in areas that were part of three successive Persian Empires.
In Iran this Neo-Zoroastrian movement began after the failure of the Islamic reform movement, which culminated in the protests of 1999, and accelerated its pace following the brutal regime crackdown on the much larger uprising exactly a decade later in the summer and fall of 2009. If one were to form a projection on the basis of the current trend, should present social and political conditions persist in Iran for only another decade, the country is headed for a violent cultural revolution wherein a militant minority of about 30% of the population that has left Muhammad and Ali for Zarathustra and Mithra finally outnumbers the 15% who are pro-regime dead-enders. At that point, something awesome and terrifying will take place, something that Westerners must be mentally prepared for because their own spiritual victory over Islam depends on it.
According to Zande Bahman Yasht, only when all of his believers had denied him, would the spirit of Zarathustra return to them in the form of their apocalyptic Savior or Saoshyant – the “life-healing wise person” who comes to establish faithful guardianship of Mother Earth. Compare this prophecy with two passages from Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterwork, Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
Zarathustra spoke to the people: I teach you the Superman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even to go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock and a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the Superman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape. Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants? Behold, I teach you the Superman. The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the Superman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth… Once the sin against God was the greatest sin; but God died, and these sinners died with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing, and to esteem the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth.
Now I go alone, my disciples, You too, go now alone. Thus I want it. Go away from me and resist Zarathustra! And even better: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he deceived you… One pays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil. And why do you not want to pluck at my wreath? You revere me; but what if your reverence tumbles one day? Beware lest a statue slay you. You say that you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra? You are my believers – but what matter all believers? You had not yet sought yourselves; and you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to so little. Now I bid you to lose me and find yourselves; and only then when you have all denied me will I return to you… that I may celebrate the great noon with you.
…”Dead are all gods: now we want the Superman to live” – on that great noon, let this be our last will. Thus spoke Zarathustra.
The Abrahamic religions later perversely appropriated the messianic Savior figure from the religion of Zarathustra, together with his teleological view of history. Besides his moral inversion of the gods and titans, Zarathustra’s greatest break with the Indo-European religion in both its Indian and pagan European forms is his rejection of the cyclical view of time. The Greco-Romans, the Celto-Germanic tribes, and the Hindus all conceived of time as elapsing over a series of declining world ages – beginning with a Golden Age (Satya Yuga) and ending with a decadent epoch of darkness (the Iron Age, Kali Yuga, or Norse age of the Wolf). Only Zarathustra thinks otherwise. History is bound to be progressive and, despite dialectical movements wherein bitter lessons are learned, in the long run the future will be better than anything the past ever had to offer. This faith in the Future is not a casual and eccentric optimism. It is grounded on the world’s first recorded abstract metaphysics and psychology. It also yields the earliest well-reasoned ethical and political philosophy that we find anywhere.
The best way to understand the teaching of Zarathustra in his hymns or Gathas (a cognate of Gita) is in terms of the Amesha Spentas. Often translated as “Bounteous Immortals”, a more rigorous translation would be something like “unchanging principles of progress” – in other words, what does not change but is the condition for the possibility of all positive change or inspired innovation. These seven are represented by the items beginning with S (for Spenta) that are placed on the Sofreye Haft-Sin spread, the altar that is set up during the Iranian New Year, Nowruz – a 12 day festival beginning with the Spring Equinox that is celebrated by Persians, Kurds, and all other Iranian ethnic groups (and even by non-Iranians in nations that were once part of the Persian Empire). Middle Persian variants of six of these also remain names of half of the months of the year in Iran’s calendar: Bahman, Ordibehesht, Shahrivar, Esfand, Khordad, and Amordad. Each of these is also more specifically associated with one aspect or element of the natural world (animals, fire, metals, earth, water, and plants). The six Amesha Spentas emanate from a seventh, who is Ahura Mazda himself in the guise of his predominant attribute or essence: Spenta Mainyu.
The word Spenta – a cognate of the Sanskrit Spanda – means “ever-increasing”, “progressive”, or “creative”. It conveys the idea of the unlimited but dynamic pulse of creative energy. Our English word “spent” is related to it in the sense of kinetic energy, although the very point here is that it is ever-renewing and never expended. Mainyu – a cognate of the Sanskrit Mano and English Mind – means “mentality” or “spirit.” As the spirit of innovation, Spenta Mainyu, or Sepandminou in more contemporary Persian, moves one through the angelic agency of Sraosha or Soroush – inspiring genius. Spenta Mainyu is one of the “twin mentalities”, the other being the essence of Ahura Mazda’s eternal adversary: Angra Mainyu or Ahriman. Angra means “knotted-up” (Persian gereh) or “constrained” and is probably related to the English “angry.” So Zarathustra emphasizes the bounteous and beneficent holiness of creative genius by explicitly contrasting it with the angry closed-mindedness of a niggardly spirit that resents and resists inspired innovation.
The progressive mentality of Ahura Mazda is responsible for intelligently guiding the creative evolution of all life, but Lord Wisdom is not omnipotent. It is on account of this insistence on the finitude of his beneficent creative power that Zarathustra’s teaching has been recognized throughout the history of Theology and the Philosophy of Religion as the sole monotheistic concept that does not pose a problem for free will. Zarathustra insists that we have the power to choose whether or not to align ourselves with the mind guiding creative evolution. His is the first recorded vision of the human being as a free agent, one called to conscientiously reflect and choose wisely for himself or herself. To draw out the cosmological implications of this more clearly, it means that in addition to rejecting the fatalism so common in ancient worldviews, Zarathustra also recognizes a fundamental metaphysical differentiation of ethically responsible individuals.
The second most important of the Amesha Spentas is Vohu Manah or Bahman. Customary translations as “Good Purpose” and “Good Thoughts” miss the point. “Best Thinking” or the maximal intelligence is much closer to the intended meaning. It is even more instructive to notice that the word human is at the core of vohumana. Human (pronounced Houmân) exists in Old Persian as a derivative of the Avestan Vohumana, before it became Bahman in middle Persian. We are essentially dealing with the idea of humanitas as it first appears in recorded history, with the same basic meaning that its Latin cognate develops much later on in the pagan Roman and Renaissance culture of Europe. One has to cultivate one’s mind purposefully and aim at excellence, otherwise one is not a “human” being. Simply walking on two legs instead of four does not make one human. Interestingly, Vohu Manah is considered the creative principle associated with animal life because one’s humanity is in some sense estimable on the basis of one’s treatment of other animals who do not have a voice of their own and depend on the righteous to protect them from cruelty and harm inflicted by the wicked.
The third of the Amesha Spendas is Asha Vahishta. The word Asha or Arta (in the dialect of the ancient Persian Emperors) is often translated as “Truth” or “Righteousness”, but it actually means “cosmic order” – literally, right-ordered-ness. It is a cognate of the Sanskrit rta. The word Vahishta or Behesht (as in Ordibehest) means “the best” or “most excellent.” What Zarathustra means by Asha is essentially identical to what is known to classical Western thought as the interpenetration of cosmos and logos, although it precedes these concepts by centuries and, as we shall see, probably catalyzed their development through the Persian colonization of Greece. The idea is that there is a right order in the universe that is graspable by the mind, and that one may align oneself with in word and deed. One is not already aligned with this order, because in addition to it there is also a deranging chaos at large in the nature of things and this perpetually threatens to disorder human life. This chaos is not identical with Angra Mainyu, which is a mentality or mind with its own agenda, but the constricting spirit’s resistance of the progressive mentality presupposes some reserve of volatile darkness for it to draw from outside of the creation of Ahura Mazda.
Zarathustra’s implicit separation between an archetypal realm of light, a template for the proper formation of all beings, and a dark realm of monstrously de-formed vermin is later explicitly articulated in the Zoroastrian creation myth of the Bundahishn. In this myth we see that every person and thing has an archetype. Our personal identities are not essentially illusory, nor is everything in the universe ultimately One divine thing beyond a veil of illusion and provisional ignorance. Such pantheism would also deny free will. So Asha suggests a finite manifold of differentiated entities being ordered against a background of chaos, which is one reason why the element associated with this Amesha Spenta is Fire – a dynamic light amidst darkness. This can be seen as an intuition of the energy basic to all beings in the universe, a metaphor drawn from the fire of the forge in a culture exposed to dark and cold winters.
Since there are things outside the will and mind of God, the plan of righteousness cannot be unfolded in the world without the help of just and heroic souls. Zarathustra repeatedly refers to God as a “friend” of human beings and of the seekers of wisdom as the “friends” or indispensable allies of God. This brings us to the principle of Khashatra Vairya (or Shahrivar), which for reasons that will become clear is associated with the element of metal – as in the metal of a sword or the saying “a test of one’s mettle” which goes back to the archaic Indo-European concept of gold, silver, bronze, and iron souls. Often translated as “Desirable Dominion”, this is Zarathustra’s concept of an earthly social and political order in line with Asha. The word Khashatra is a cognate of the Sanskrit Kshatriya or “warrior” and is seen in the native name for what the Greeks, and Westerners subsequently, referred to as one or another “Persian Empire.” The Persians never called their territory that. Their own name for it was Aryana Khashatra in ancient Persian, shortened to Iran Shahr in Middle Persian, meaning “Aryan Imperium.” Indeed, the idea of Aryana (or Iran) is bound up with having an Imperium or Dominion that would be Vairya or most “choice-worthy”. The royal inscriptions of Persian Emperors such as Darius the Great are signed with the phrase, “I am a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan of Aryan lineage.” Arya means “finely-wrought, well put together, skillful, or wise”. It is the word translated as “noble” in Gautama Buddha’s concepts of Arya Chatvari Satyani, the “Noble Four Truths”, and Arya Ashtanga Marga, the “Noble Eightfold Path.” It shares its root Ar with the Greek words Aristokratia or “rule of the best” as well as Arete or “virtue” in the sense of skillful conduct, excellence, or the fine cultivation of character.
Khashatra Vairya is that form of government which, should it be actualized, would be recognized as the most desirable. That does not mean it is based on the base desires of the majority of people in a society. To the contrary, the wisest and most just people must organize a state in such a fashion as will afford everyone the concrete possibility to actualize their human potential. This is a system that is opposed to democracy or the rule of an ignorant mob, just as it is a bulwark against tyranny – whether the tyranny of a single arbitrary dictator, or a military dictatorship (what the Greeks called a timocracy). Khashatra Vairya is a true aristocracy, the rule of “the best” who are necessarily the wisest and most intelligent individuals, which is not to be confused with oligarchy or the rule of a cabal of wealthy merchants or bankers who often stealthily manipulate a democracy. The first example of this form of government was the archaic Iranian sovereign Kavi Vishtaspa’s patronage of Zarathustra, the prototype of a state based on philosopher-kingship, which repeatedly reemerged in Iran’s history.
The principle of Desirable Dominion is the first utopian ideal of earthly governance, an ideal that would be rejected both by Abrahamic religious believers and by devotees of the Dharma. The former would see it as a Luciferian presumption of being able to turn the Earth into a paradise by means of human endeavor, thereby relegating the promise of Heaven to irrelevance, and the latter would see it as a dangerous delusion that obscures the recognition that conditioned existence is intrinsically and inevitably a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and suffering that can only be remedied by ego annihilation. Zarathustra preaches that Utopia is possible, and that God wants us to help build it. Consonant with the humanism of Vohu Manah, as the ideal form of government the Khashatra Vairya would have no definite borders. It is par excellence cosmopolitan, not in the sense of a multi-cultural hodgepodge but insofar as a government grounded on Asha or cosmic order demands citizens of the entire cosmos who can transcend custom. Even the atmosphere of Earth would be an arbitrary boundary for this stellar ideal.
In a sense the establishment of a desirable dominion is a response to the cry of the soul of the living world, which we hear at the outset of the Gathas. It is in this context that one ought to contemplate the fact that the next principle of progress, Spenta Armaiti (Sepandarmad or Esfand), which is usually translated as “ever-deepening serenity, love, or devotion”, is associated with the element of Earth. As one’s deeds become increasingly consistent with one’s words, and as these words more sincerely reflect one’s thoughts and inner conscience, this increasingly focused unity of purpose and coherence of character begins to pervade one’s being with a sense of calm. So the association with the Earth can in one sense be interpreted as a reference to being increasingly grounded, as compared to the confused hypocrite whose lack of character reflects his rootlessness. Yet when we bear in mind the cry of Gaush Urvan, the soul of Mother Earth in the sense of the spirit of the whole living world (including life on any other planets), as represented by a particularly harmless and defenseless animal, there is also another dimension of meaning to be discovered in this elemental association. In the Gathas, it is very clear that the cow and the pastures of the settled farming communities that Zarathustra is called to defend are under attack from cattle raiders and plunderers under the command of warlords who are allied with priests of a bloody, sacrificial and blindly ritualistic religion. Against the background of these social conditions, Zarathustra also becomes an evangelist of agriculture and a gospel of ecology. This brings us to the last two principles of progress, which are closely related to one another and to Spenta Armaiti as devotion to the Earth.
Haurvatat (Khordad) is “wholeness” and is associated with water, the connection between the principle and the element being that holy or hale water confers health. This is another principle best understood by contrasting it with the attitude toward the body that prevails in certain other spiritual traditions. Monastic Christians, certain ancient Gnostic sects, ascetic Hindus and Jains view the body as at best unimportant and at worst an impediment to spiritual enlightenment, sometimes even describing it as a “cage” or “dung heap”. They will deny, starve, and torture the body with a view to liberating their souls or freeing their minds from being ensnared in matter. The principle of Haurvatat holds that the well being, or “wholeness”, of the body is an indispensable foundation for cultivation of the mind. A healthy body is a reflection of a healthy soul progressing towards enlightenment. Health care on an individual and social level also requires making sure that water sources are protected from contamination. Their ‘holiness’ is a guarantee on their remaining pure. This is the real meaning behind the Zoroastrian symbolism of the virgin Anahita, the goddess of the waters or “Lady of the Lake”, and the invocation: “This Earth together with her Mistresses we worship: her that carries us, and them that are Her Dames… The Waters we worship, sparkling and sappy, the Lord’s Wives that speed on by the Lord’s artistry. You of good fording, of good current, of good bathing-pools we present for the wholeness of body and mind. …As the Waters, as the Milch Cows, as the Mothers, choice cows, caring for the needy, giving to all to drink, we will invoke you…”
The ancient Persians invented a system of extremely long-distance irrigation that would carry water from aquifers to arid lands by means of gently sloping underground channels or tunnels cut deep into Earth. These qanats made it possible for verdant gardens to spring up in the middle of deserts, and they highlight the connection between Haurvatat and Ameretat. The last of the principles of progress, Ameretat (Amordad) is translated as “Immortality” and is associated with plants or vegetation. You might notice that the root of many Indo-European words for death (mer, mord) is preceded by the privative a to form a compound that literally means “deathlessness.” Indeed, while Immortality might be the most complete expression of it, a better translation would be Vitality – so that the combination of Haurvatat and Ameretat, sometimes referred to as twins in the Gathas, could be understood as “Health and Vitality.”
The walled gardens that the ancient Persians produced by means of qanats, and that can still be found throughout Iran today, are referred to as paridaeza. This is the source of our word “paradise”. Pari or paery is actually a cognate of the Celtic faery, so that the most archaic meaning of this was probably something like “fairy enclosure”. It would not be eccentric to suggest that this somehow calls to mind the biosphere domes of science fiction, associated with terraforming dead planets like Mars. Remember that the first of the principles of progress is the progressive mentality itself. Zarathustra is an archaic futurist. The ideal of Ameretat is one of bringing increasing (Spenta) life and vitality to places that are barren, in other words improving upon Nature by being a co-worker of creative Wisdom who, again, is conceived of as a beloved Friend. Many different crops, plants, and flowers can grow in a single garden. However, this garden must be protected from predators by a wall, and the gardener must weed the garden and protect it from harmful pests. This is an allegory that draws out another element of the ancient Persian political philosophy of Khashatra Vairya. It is true that the Persian Empire was uniquely cosmopolitan and tolerant, but that does not mean tolerating weeds and pests that pose a danger to the diversity of the entire garden.
The fostering of such an ecological utopia is nonetheless a provisional measure. The ultimate significance of Haurvatat and Ameretat have to do with Zarathustra’s vision of a fiery transfiguration of all existence at the end of history. This Frashokereti (Frashgard) is an alchemical transmutation that brings about a “refreshing” or “renewal” of all things. It is described as a trial or ordeal by molten metal, one wherein liquid fire baptizes the entire world. It burns the deceitful devotees of Angra Mainyu but is experienced as a liberating purification by the adherents of Ahura Mazda who thereby assume their final, perfected forms as unique individuals. This is the concept of the Fravashi or Faravahar, of the Whole or Perfected Immortal, which is symbolized by the person in the winged disc with one arm pointing “forwards!” and the other holding a ring that symbolizes this promise of the completion of the soul’s upward evolution. Just before the metal of the Earth is liquefied in this global conflagration, there is an apocalyptic “great event of choice” wherein a Saoshyant or “life-healing wise person” comes as a Savior to give everyone a last chance to definitively choose a side in the cosmic battle between the two camps.
What I will go on to argue in the subsequent installments of this essay, is that the renaissance of Pre-Islamic Persian culture in Greater Iran promises to bring about this cataclysmic event within the next few decades. The readership of this magazine hardly needs to be reminded of the metaphysical power of myth in Metapolitics. In the imminent world war with Islam, Europe’s vital interests are indefensible without an alliance with the Neo-Zoroastrian youth vanguard that is preparing to ignite an Aryan Renaissance in the heart of the so-called ‘Islamic world.’ This is the eve of the final battle in a millennial war between the worship of Wisdom and Submission to enforced ignorance. There will be no peace treaty, no retreat to any safe haven, and no surrender. You will have to choose. The twilight lands must prepare to bear witness to that blazing light from the East: “Come now, Fire! For we are eager to see the dawning of the day…”
Continue on to: The Return of Zarathustra, Part II